Monday, 16 September 2019

Falling Water - My First Trail Marathon

Somehow, after 12 years of running, this was my first trail marathon. Happy Trails first announced the race in summer 2018, with no details other than 1. it's a marathon-ish 2. there are very limited spots and 3. the scenery would be amazing. I was one of the lucky 80 people who snagged a spot.
v gud boi Tucker tied to my hubcap pre-race. Video credit: Martin.

The race didn't start too early so I drove up in the morning with Steve and Tucker. Normally at races with local peeps I'd say I know about 1/3rd of the field; at Falling Water I knew the majority of the participants.
Some of my favourite people: K, Bogdan, Agnes!
The first 6.5K was out and back, with a giant climb up a ski hill. That was the only point at which you could access drop bags so I travelled light and brought nothing extra beyond what I'd carry with me. The course was kind of a convoluted figure 8 - course descriptions beyond the basic three (loop, out and back, point to point) make no sense to me in written form.

Photo credit: K
As you can see from the pictures, I decided to use poles, and a lot of other people did too. A few weeks ago, Agnes let me try her lightest poles (that she used) just to see if I liked poles, then she lent me her 2nd lightest poles, which are significantly heavier but still tolerable. The poles are really helpful for getting uphill.

I learned from my training mistake last year for Cape Chignecto and did almost zero speedwork and added in long hill repeats. I also did two long runs in Blue Mountain, and the hills at Cook Forest were also excellent training. The worst climb by far was the Graham's/Campbell's Hill ST, which is actually a gravel road, which we did twice during the race and was about 3-4x the length of Martin Rd in Dundas. I don't have a picture of this hill and pictures couldn't do it justice anyways, as we'd round a bend and the hill kept going..and going..

Rounding out the back of the pack with Agnes and I was a lady named Karen, we ran together until she dropped at AS4 because she was supposed to be tapering for BFC next week. Steve is also doing BFC but he finished because he's a special brand of crazy.
Karen and I, endlessly climbing. Photo credit: Agnes
So we were promised awesome views and waterfalls. Here they are!

We were probably up at the top at some point. 
Good thing #vertsnotreal.


Hogg's Falls in motion. See the rainbow in the mist?
Love how the course detoured a few metres off the BT for waterfall picture opportunities at Hogg's Falls!
Eugenia Falls. SO GORGEOUS!!


This stone arch with a rock propped up in front - perfect photo op.
As we finished Graham's/Campbell's hill (aka The Big Fucking Hill That Never Fucking Ends) the second time, we came up to AS2/5, which was staffed by the Beaver Valley BTC. The club president gave us instructions on how to navigate the final 5K, which had a turn that was easily missed, but I admitted to her that in our brain-dead state, I could not process her instructions. 

This house. This waterfall! OMG! ❤❤❤

So this happened at some point in the later stages of the race:

Agnes: I see a big black dog over there.
Me: eeeee
We pass by and there is no dog.
Agnes: I think that might actually have been a bear cub.
Me: AGGGGGGGHHHH
But hey, there were no pictures, so maybe it didn't happen. 🤷‍♀️

Since our friend Bogdan had been MIA for so many months, I wanted to make sure he was at the finish.


Last horses. Photo credit: Steve
I LOVE the fact that we got a badge for completing Falling Water, because of Trail Math the distance was of course 42.2K-ish, definitely not a Boston Qualifier! Since this was my first trail marathon, it was a PB of sorts but also a PW if you also count my 10 previous road marathons.

#collectbadgesnotpbs

Agnes: who stumbles through the woods and climbs torturous hills for 9+ hours and still has fun?!
Me: psychopaths like us. 
well earned beer and chäir.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Canadian Contingent

I heard about Cook Forest 25K from Coach Heather, who ran the race last year. I was looking for a race near Becky in Pittsburgh so I could stop by for a visit. We made plans to get a cabin near the race start for Friday night.

on our cabin bedroom door
The cabin was a couple kilometres from the start, and the first km was on road, but the rest was all trail. I sensed that Becky didn't believe me when I said I'd run with her, because the two road halfs we'd done in the past, I finished a good 20-30 minutes before her. But that was in the fast road days...things have changed.

Giving some serious side-eye to that dog owner.
I thought the race was going to live up to the nickname 'Rocksylvania', but only the first 5K was technical. There was a humongous climb off the first road section to the fire tower, and there were a few big climbs, but in between was very, very runnable.

The Fire Tower.
There were a lot of interesting rock formations, like this:


And this:

Love how it looks like the huge rock was propped up by the tiny stick!

Finished in what was probably a personal worst time for 25K, but I had no intention of racing this, as I had to wait for Becky to go to her house anyways. Also, she finished about a minute ahead of me.

25K-ish (27 on my watch).
 I was the only Canadian registered in the race!

Left a mark on the cabin wall:


The weather was absolutely amazing (high 23, zero humidity), which was so unexpected for August. It's crazy how much weather changes your perception of a race. If it was gross and soupy humidity, I would be writing about how miserable this race was.

Still didn't stop me from cooling my legs off afterwards in the Clarion River:

Monday, 29 July 2019

If you're 555 then I'm 666

Can I just say how much I love timed races? No DNFs, no chasing cutoffs, just go at whatever pace, no stress.

magical pine forest

Although this was not my longest race, this was my longest timed event and surprisingly, my first summer ultra. It was a warm day but it wasn't so humid that I didn't think I could catch a breath.

Started off the morning cheering on Bryden and Greg in the 1K (first sub 6 minute, yeah!)

My boys.

The first loop was uneventful. Ran a lot of the second loop with Delano and started feeling a twinge in my glute, stretching didn't help much and it was affecting my gait. I rolled it out using my water bottle after the loop and it was definitely better but felt like the pain could come back at any minute. I texted Agnes to find me some drugs and stopped at a bench to do a pelvis reset. That, combined with the drugs, thankfully kept the pain away for the rest of the race.

The middle loops were pretty uneventful, hot AF during the rail trail open sections. I ran when I felt like it and just kept moving when I didn't feel like running. I reached the 6 hour mark at just over 5 loops.

Pickle juice, work your magic!

I had 9 loops in my mind as a goal and 10 as a stretch goal, but I ended up taking 3 breaks during the race and it put 10 loops out of the question but I wanted to do more than the bare minimum goal, so I thought it would be fun to run 66.6K. Agnes ran the 6th loop with me and I am proud of myself for being mentally strong enough to not go crazy without company.

🤘🤘🤘
The timing company had put me down for 72K (10 loops + 2K) but I am also proud of myself for having the integrity of emailing them to correct it, because I don't want my ultrasignup rating to be artificially inflated.

Monday, 27 May 2019

#13 is finally the lucky one

I was feeling a little bit nervous, as it's been a couple of years since my last long ultra, and I feel like I've been on a bad streak for the past few months with slow performances and DNFs.
Arrived at the race with 5 minutes to spare, but did not trip on my shoelaces and face plant, which already made the race better than my previous other 50 mile in 2016. Someday I'll make to to Sulphur race start without having to rush around like a crazy person!  The race started off in really good weather, cool and cloudy. Soon after, the skies opened up, huge thunderclaps and I fully expected to see someone or something smitten by lightning. The parts of the course that are always muddy were muddy, and parts that usually aren't (G. Donald) were muddy as well. Finished loop 1 in just over 3 hours - a normal day on tapered legs should have been around 2:45-2:50 but oh well. Lost a couple minutes because of the route change after the Martin Rd. AS, we have always turned left after the AS to access the lollipop, and even though there were marshals there, they were busy chatting, and I had to ask them where to go. Dudes, #youhadonejob!

Loved these witty signs, distracted from the pain of climbing the Three Bitches!
(pics with me in them were taken by Agnes)


I was surprised by how quickly loop 2 went by. It seemed like barely a few minutes before I was already 5 hours and 30K+ in. I saw a guy scoop up some muddy water with his hands, I was almost frozen with horror expecting him to drink it, but it turned out he was transporting a salamander to safety. I kept going back and forth with this 100 miler guy, when The Crew (Greg, Matt, Spenny, Beth J) found me on the lollipop descent, and Greg started talking to the 100 miler. Turns out he was SIL#2's high school boyfriend - small world!

After 40K Greg helped me change socks and shoes and we headed out for the first half of loop 3 together. It was warm and sunny at this point. In the frenzy of changing, I realized I forgot my watch charger and I sent Greg back early to get it, he met me at the Martin Rd. AS before the lollipop and I recharged while doing the lollipop.  Saw Steve on the way to do his final lollipop and he was behind, he was going to pace me for my final loop but was way behind pace. It was ok though, I had backup plans. Finished 60K in under 10 hours, considering MOTG (65K) took me 12+ hours..I was 🔥🔥🔥!!


Nurse Spenny making sure his Fake Mom was doing fine.
📷Agnes
I have always said that figuring out the blister game would be the key to Sulphur success. I started with the shoes and socks that got me through 40 miles at MOTG with zero issues, but I felt a small hot spot on my toe and taped that up after loop three with another sock change. In hindsight I should have brought one more pair of shoes, but even just a sock change felt good.

I had my rockstar pacing team of Agnes and Lindsay for the final loop. The weather went very quickly downhill and we experienced some of the scariest weather ever on Monarch, the winds and rain were practically hurricane force, and a large tree branch crashed down between us!

Hard to believe we were in the downpour minutes after this.
The G. Donald loop was horrendous, Lindsay was brave enough to mud surf down the hills but Agnes and I could only pick our way down inch by inch. I'll still say Palmer's Pond was worse in terms of how muddy the course was, but this was by far the worst conditions I have ever seen on the Sulphur loop in the 5 years that I have been running there.

So much fucking mud!
📷 Agnes
I felt a small twinge of cramping in one calf before the final lollipop, but a pickle from the AS made it go away. Lindsay and Agnes kept me moving, and although I can't say the last 20K went by in a flash, it was tolerable with their company.

The Orange Teletubby (Agnes) and Miss Mud Ass.
📷 Charlotte Varsarhelyi 

In the final stretch, Lindsay reminded me of one of my favourite Ann Trason quotes, "It hurts up to a point, and then it doesn't get any worse." That gave me the strength to run the best part, the downhill lollipop. Greg met us at the bottom of Martin Road, I ran the final stretch strongly, and met my goal of sub 15 hours in Patty-watch time. I'm super happy with my performance considering how completely shitty the conditions were.


Monday, 6 May 2019

Rugged Raccoon 25K

My first Happy Trails race of 2019 was Rugged Raccoon 25K. I thought it was on new to me trails, but upon looking at the map, realized I ran there in 2015 during the Avon thru run.

Agnes and I signed up for the early start, a) because we are slow and did not want to be stressed to hit the cutoff and b) wanted to be home before the wee hours.  So this was technically a night race but for us, only the last 90 minutes or so were in complete darkness.

I was kind of relieved to see quite a few others opting for the early start, the first kilometer or so was on road, through the campground. The trails were very very runnable, punctuated by the occasional muddy section. I heard people saying "OMG SO MUDDY!!" but compared to Palmer's Pond and Round the Cape, it was absolutely nothing.
Déjà vu.
I saw a side trail named Field of Burrs on the map, and was careful not to step off trail there, since burrs (and unleashed dogs and mosquitoes) are my nemesis.


After being overcast for most of the day, the skies started clearing, making for a beautiful sunset.

Wildwood Lake: The Golden Hour.

Magical pine forest at dusk. Photo by Agnes.

I can't say enough about how gorgeous this trail was. Lots of magical pine forest (my favourite)! and I loved how the course was just one big loop, so the scenery was always new.

Cleaner shoes, for a moment.
I had checked to make sure my headlamp was working, but what I failed to notice was that the light was quite dim, due to old batteries. What can I say, I was sitting at my desk, it was hard to tell. Thankfully, Agnes had a spare headlamp, and combined with my headlamp worn around my wrist, was quite adequate.

We had stayed ahead of the last pack of early starters, but Agnes said "look! someone is catching up!" and that kept me motivated to stay ahead. The course was very well marked, but we missed one marker at a road crossing, and the person behind made the same mistake, it was Ryan, the leader of the regular start. Fortunately we only were off course by a couple hundred metres but still lost a few minutes there.

Agnes took off with less than 5K to go, I was getting lapped by a lot of the faster regular starters. I was still running a lot, despite my fear of tripping in the dark. The final kilometer was on the park road again, I really turned it on and finished strong. Due to a new request by Happy Trails that everyone stick around for 10 minutes after finishing to cheer on fellow runners, there were a LOT of people at the finish, and I heard people yelling my name but could not see who they were, it was appreciated anyways!

My finishing time was quite slow despite running most of the race at a hard effort, walking through the muddy sections really slowed things down.

Next Sunday I run my first road 5K in many years...then Sulphur 50 mile!

Monday, 8 April 2019

The Pace of Futility

I was looking for a spring 50K to lead up to Sulphur 50 mile, and none of the local races sounded appealing. I saw that coach Heather had signed up for Palmer's Pond, I commented on her FB post, she said I should come, and the RD also commented, saying there were only 2 spots left. Couldn't beat the price (FREE!) so I signed up too.

Heather said she'd drive to the race. Since she is so much faster than me, I was concerned about her having to wait ages for me, but she said she didn't mind.


The course directions in the pre-race email was super confusing, but made a lot more sense in person. There were 2 "5ish" mile loops in a figure 8 formation that we'd run 3 times, once in each direction, and the final loop was runner's choice, with the start/finish/AS at the centre junction. We were warned that the course was muddy. Shrug. It's early spring, it would be stranger to have no mud.

You want mud? YOU GOT MUD!!!!
The vast majority of the loop was deep mud and water and the small parts I considered runnable were somewhat rooty, although the course was NOT technical by any means. 


Magical pine forest, in the morning fog.
The first loop, although muddy, was actually the easiest, but I didn't realize this until having done both loops in both directions. We were told that during the second loop we'd pass through a section marked Trail Closed, but that we had permission to pass through the land, just follow the round yellow markers.

"Just follow the yellow markers", he said.
 The closed section started out on marshy grass which was sort of nice, because at least it wasn't mud, but then there was no trail. And where there is no trail, THERE ARE BRAMBLES.

It would be generous to say that I was running 10% of the time, but most other people weren't doing much better. Everyone I saw, with the exception of the leaders (including Heather) was walking.

I saw Heather for the final time when she was on her 5th loop (I was on my 3rd). The cutoff was 10 hours to start the 5th loop, which I could easily achieve, but would mean that Heather would be waiting several hours for me. I could not do that to her. I was so totally over the mud slogging and I did ask if she would consider pacing me for the 5th loop, she thought about it for about 2 seconds and said "I don't think so." Surprisingly, my pace, although ridiculously slow was fairly even and above what I consider my ultimate pace of futility, the 25K in 6 hours in Nova Scotia.

It is tradition to yank on the PP's.
I still got in 35.9K, the longest run of 2019 so far, both by distance and time on feet. I could not bring myself to get an even 36K. Still on track for Sulphur 50 mile though!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

2018: the 40th year

Almost all cold weather shots, I wonder why?
Last year, this was my #1 goal:


I am happy to report that with 9 days and 7 runs remaining in 2018, I will top 3200K for the year, a new yearly record and reach my stretch goal of 3247.7K/2018 miles. Unlike in 2017, I kept a close eye on my mileage all year as to be certain to reach my goal. I think I'm in for #runtheyear2019, as the medal is really sweet!

Events: 1ish road race (the Canada Beer Run wasn't much of a race), 3 ultras (1 DNF), 1 PB (25K), 3 non-ultra trail races.

Highlights: 19.78K birthday run, 40 mile birthday race, many trail adventures with friends.

In 2019, I will be running only trail races. Hanging up the pace bunny ears. My long term goal is to run a 100 miler in the next 5 years, and my medium term goal is to get more experience at 60-100K distances. I just signed up for Tally in the Valley 12 hour day and also plan to do Sulphur 50 mile again in the spring. In the fall, I snagged one of the coveted spots at Falling Water and am undecided as to which other ultra(s) to run in the fall.

Someday I will head back to Nova Scotia for some Cape Chignecto redemption. Surely 36 hours is enough time to finish 50K?